The Largest Social Movement in History

By UPLIFT on Monday July 6th, 2015

The Largest Social Movement in History

When You Know Where to Look You Can See The Great Turning is Occurring Everywhere

An unprecedented phenomenon now happening in this world of ours. Be they teachers in favelas, forest defenders, urban farmers, occupiers of Wall Street, designers of windmills, military resisters (the list goes on…), the fact is people from all walks of life are coming alive and coming together, impelled to create a more just and sustainable society.

In his book Blessed Unrest Paul Hawken presents this – what he calls The Movement With No Name – as the largest social movement of human history. Estimating the number of grassroots groups and nongovernmental organisations for social justice, Indigenous rights and environmental sanity, he suggests a figure of 2 million of us (as of 2007), and counting.

Each of these groups and organisations represents a yet vaster number of individuals who, in some way or another (and each uniquely in their own fashion), are hearing the call to widen the notions of their self-interest and act for the sake of life on Earth.

In this defining moment, countless choices are being made, habits relinquished, friendships forged, and gateways opened to unforeseen collaborations and capacities.

People of all ages and backgrounds as they engage in actions on behalf of life itself“People of all ages and backgrounds as they engage in actions on behalf of life itself”

The Time of the Great Turning

These shape the stories that deserve to be told – stories of ordinary men, women and youngsters who are making changes in their minds, their lives and their communities, in order to lay the groundwork for this more just and sustainable world. These are the tales that we need to hear, and those who come after us will want them as well. For when future generations look back at this historical moment, they will see, more clearly than we can right now, just how revolutionary it is. They may well call it the time of the Great Turning.

For those of us living now it is easy to be unaware of the immensity of this transition – from an entrenched, militarised industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilisation.

Mainstream education and mainstream media do not provide the tools for comprehending such a perspective. Yet social thinkers such as Lester Brown and Donella Meadows and others recognise this transition as the third major watershed in humanity’s journey, comparable in magnitude and scope to the agricultural and industrial revolutions. This is the essential adventure of our time.

Like all true revolutions, it belongs to the people.

Its inspiring stories do not star titans of industry or party politicians, military generals or media celebrities. The power of this revolution lies in the fact that it comes from people of all ages and backgrounds as they engage in actions on behalf of life itself. Their motivation represents a remarkable expansion of allegiance beyond personal or group advantage. This wider sense of identity is a moral capacity more often associated with heroes and saints; but it now manifests everywhere on a practical and workaday plane.

From children restoring streams for salmon spawning, to inner-city neighbours planting community gardens, from forest defenders perched high in trees marked for illegal logging, to countless climate actions to limit greenhouse-gas emissions, an undreamt-of wave of human endeavour is under way. Each of these engagements has its own intrinsic rewards, whether its initial goal is achieved or not. And even when failing to reach the desired outcome, the gains can be invaluable in terms of all that has been learnt in the process – not only about the issue, but also about courage and co-creativity.

Ordinary men, women and youngsters who are making changes in their minds, their lives and their communities“Ordinary men, women and youngsters who are making changes in their minds, their lives and their communities”

A Simple Faith in the Goodness of Life

Still, it is easy to turn away from playing a part in the Great Turning. All of us are prey to the fear that it may be too late, and thus any effort is essentially hopeless. Any strategy we can mount seems so puny in comparison with the mighty systemic forces embedded in the military-industrial complex. The accelerating pace of destruction and contamination may already be taking us beyond those tipping points where ecological and social systems unravel irreparably.

Along with the Great Turning, the Great Unravelling is happening too, and there is no way to tell how the larger story will end.

So we learn again that hardest and most rewarding of lessons: how to make friends with uncertainty; how to pour your whole passion into a project when you can’t be sure it’s going to work. How to free yourself from dependence on seeing the results of your actions. These learnings are crucial, for living systems are ever unfolding in new patterns and connections. There is no point from which to foresee with clarity the possibilities to emerge under future conditions.

Instead of any blueprint of the future, we have this moment. In lieu of a sure-fire strategy to pull off the Great Turning, we can only fashion guidelines to help us keep going as best we can, and to stay on track with a simple faith in the goodness of life. Here are five of those guidelines that have already served a number of us over the years. Try them out, and make up some of your own.

1. Come from gratitude

We have received an inestimable gift: to be alive in this wondrous, self-organising universe with senses to perceive it, lungs that breathe it, organs that draw nourishment from it. And how amazing it is to be accorded a human life with self-reflective consciousness that allows us to make choices, letting us opt to take part in the healing of our world.

The very scope of the Great Turning is cause for gratitude as well, for it embraces the full gamut of human experience. Its three main dimensions include actions to slow down the destruction wrought by our political economy and its wars against humanity and Nature; new structures and ways of doing things, from holding land to growing food to generating energy; and a shift in consciousness to new ways of knowing, a new paradigm of our relation to each other and to the sacred living body of Earth. These dimensions are equally essential and mutually reinforcing. There are thousands of ways to take part in the Great Turning.

Be not afraid“Be not afraid”

2. Don’t be afraid of the dark

This is a dark time filled with suffering, as old systems and previous certainties come apart. Like living cells in a larger body, we feel the trauma of our world. It is natural and even healthy that we do, for it shows we are still vitally linked in the web of life. So don’t be afraid of the grief you may feel, or of the anger or fear: these responses arise, not from some private pathology, but from the depths of our mutual belonging. Bow to your pain for the world when it makes itself felt, and honour it as testimony to our interconnectedness.

When the Zen poet Thich Nhat Hanh was asked: “What do we most need to do to save our world?” his questioners expected him to identify the best strategies to pursue for social and environmental causes. But Thich Nhat Hanh answered:

“What we most need to do is to hear within us the sounds of the Earth crying.”

When we learn to hear that, we discover that our pain for the world and our love for the world are one. And we are made stronger.

3. Dare to vision

We will never bring forth what we haven’t dared to dream or learnt to imagine. For those of us dwelling in a high-tech consumer society, replete with ever proliferating electronic distractions, the imagination is the most underdeveloped, even atrophied, of our mental capacities. Yet never has its juicy, enlivening power been more desperately needed than now.

So, think of how many aspects of our current reality started out as someone’s dream. There was a time when much of America was a British colony, when women didn’t have the vote and when the slave trade was seen as essential to the economy. To change something, we need to hold the possibility that it could be different. Author and coach Stephen Covey reminds us:

“All things are created twice. There’s a mental or first creation, and a physical or second creation to all things.”

4. Link arms with others

Whatever it is that you’re drawn to do in the Great Turning, don’t even think of doing it alone. The hyper-individualism of our competitive industrialised culture has isolated people from each other, breeding conformity, obedience and an epidemic of loneliness. The good news of the Great Turning is that it is a team undertaking. It evolves out of countless spontaneous and synergistic interactions as people discover their common goal and their different gifts. Paul Hawken sees this amazing emergence at the grassroots level as an immune response of the living Earth to the crises now confronting us.

Many models of affinity groups and study-action have emerged in recent decades, offering methods for learning, strategising and working together. They help us uncover confidence in ourselves as well as in each other.

You are as old as the universe“You are as old as the universe”

5. Act your age

Now is the time to clothe ourselves in our true authority. Every particle in every atom of every cell in our body goes back to the primal flaring forth of space and time. In that sense you are as old as the universe, with an age of about 14 billion years. This current body of yours has been being prepared for this moment by Earth for some 4 billion years, so you have an absolute right to step forward and act on Earth’s behalf. When you are speaking up at a city council meeting, or protecting a forest from demolition, or testifying at a hearing on nuclear waste, you are doing that not out of some personal whim or virtue, but from the full authority of your 14 billion years.

The beauty of the Great Turning is that each of us takes part in distinctive ways. Given our different circumstances and with our different dispositions and capacities, our stories are all unique. All have something fresh to reveal. All can help inspire others. And that’s why we need these stories…


This article is an edited excerpt from the introduction to Stories of the Great Turning, edited by Peter Reason and Melanie Newman, published by Vala Publications. 

How do you feel about this article? Join the conversation.




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14 Responses to The Largest Social Movement in History

  1. We are choosing to evolve together consciously. The old paradigms are dying, but not without a fight. Together, we csn, and are, transforming into ‘homospiritus sapiens’….those connected to the spirit of Life, using our different form of intelligence to co-create and support Life in its many forms.

  2. I feel like I’ve been waiting to read that my whole present life. I just found Joanna Macy’s remarkable work 2 days ago and I am glad that I didn’t know this was written by her before I read it. It confirms to me that there are no coincidences, that my awakening has been guided to where I am now – gaining enough confidence that what I have felt in my heart all my life is true and that I am not alone in this, I am one, with you. Thank you for the space you have created

  3. I am truly grateful for the article, but I noticed that Joanna Macy’s name doesn’t appear until the end. It feels like she should be honoured for her ideas at the start of the article, so I just wanted to share that, since I know you guys care a lot about being in right relationship.
    Her ideas are SO important now, too — so having her name at the top would help people find her work.

  4. Thank you for this article….I will share it with my students. I teach the technologies of media for social awareness. I will march on Washington for the Womens March in January.

  5. YES IN THOUGHT WORD AND DEED MY ENTIRE ADULT LIFE! Thank you, gracias,merci for sharing this beautifully articulated vision!??? I dicovered how to creat biological integrity as one way to creat capacity to live in freedom, love others and our hOME/ planet earth while honouring my deepest most authentic self:”In my experience Macrobiotics with all it’s intricate and fascinating possibilities is a Great Art…‪#‎theartofliving‬ with a sense of freedom, a kind heart, vitality, generosity of spirit and respect for the constant interplay of the finite and infinite that is surrounding and within us all the time” WD ’77 WayneDiotte

    IT IS a salutation, A greeting, a kind wish, a hope, a heartfelt outreach or even a prayer for you and with you… That you may be inspired to BE one with your true nature; living moment to moment your great life potential.” WD

    “# toyourgreatlife:
    Es un saludo, un saludo, un deseo amable, una esperanza, una extensión de corazón o incluso una oración por vosotros y con vosotros … para que seas inspirado a ser uno con su verdadera naturaleza; momento en la vida al instante a su gran potencial de vida “. WD


  6. I LOVE the fact we people are progressing and evolving. It is reassuring in these times, to know most people want PEACE.

  7. I want to do something with what I knoe (computers, informatics, web, phisics, arts, photo, vídeo, bla bla bla) but don’t know where to start… I have thought about volunteering or joining an ong, Im pretty confussed in life in this matter, but made some money the last years just to “buy free time” that I can now use in doing something useful… If you can tell what options do you personally know I will appretiate it, thanks.

    • Begin by going within yourself. You have all the answers inside. Ask and you will be guided.

    • Waauw Eduardo! Your message resonates with me. I too am reorganizing my life to have a more meaningful life. I feel that a lot of us from this social movement are feeling that same thing about not knowing where to start. This uplift connect website is but one platform of all these different crusaders doing their best with their knowledge for a better world. I’m envisioning a larger network where are all these individuals connect and share on a much deeper level than fb and just the web. I have my own unique capacities, talents and ideas. But I’ll need a team to help manifest this vision, and a lot of help with informatics and web stuff, and a whole lot more. So you have very useful skills. Right now I enrolled in a social entrepreneur course to learn how i can start a business from my vision of a socially just, sustainable world to live in. We should team up.

      Have you heard about or seen the movie the Or you can now take the awakening the dreamer online symposium on
      This helped me to become more aware of what is going on in the world. And it’s making me want to commit to a better world.

    • Hi Eduardo, You are ‘hearing the call’ to greater service and that is a good thing. Take the time to “go inside” through meditation, prayer, hiking, being out in nature, whatever allows you to still your mind. Be very specific in asking “how can I best serve my community/my world at this time?” Then in the following days & weeks pay attention to the people, books, causes that you are drawn to. You can trust that your passion and commitment to make a better world, will draw you to the next step in your journey, and to an amazing place where your gifts intersect with something that is needed. Best of luck to you.

      • Thanks for taking your time, that makes me think and thats good, I also believe there is no general answer but instead there may be a better recognition about time and space and consciente but it tales a trip to de el what’s going on… meditation is helping.